COVID-19 Back to School Checklist

By Tracey Dowdy

The Spring semester played out much differently than most of us anticipated, and despite our hope to the contrary, things are still somewhat uncertain as we kick off the 2020-21 school year. If your school district is offering in-person learning, the prospect of sending your child into a classroom this Fall may be daunting. 

But, rest assured, there are steps you can take that coupled with the precautions being put in place by administrators and teachers, will ensure your child is as safe as possible. 

Don’t send your child to school sick.  While this may seem like an obvious statement, it’s not uncommon for parents to send sick kids to school. The CDC has a checklist for parents that includes which symptoms to look for before you make your decision. Michael LaSusa, superintendent of schools in Chatham, New Jersey says, “First and foremost, parents should not send any child who is symptomatic of illness to school. This means that parents should develop a routine for quickly checking their child for fever in the morning and also confirm that their child does not have a cough or any other sign of illness. If a child does have a fever, the parent should not give the child fever-reducing medication and send her/him off to school, but instead, be sure to keep the child home.”

Backpack backpack. While classroom management can be difficult under normal circumstances, this year will prove even more of a challenge. School districts across the country have asked parents to provide their own school supplies as children will not have access to communal supplies. If you or someone you know is struggling to provide supplies, follow this link for a list of resources in your area.

Sanitize and mask up. Depending on your child’s age and cognitive ability, the prospect of them keeping a mask on all day may make you laugh harder than any stand-up routine. Do your best to model appropriate mask-wearing and encourage your child to wear their mask if they’re going to be in close proximity to others, such as on the bus. If possible, send them to school with at least two in case one gets dirty or breaks – you know they’re going to play with them and it’s not a matter of if but of when they’re going to break. It’s a good idea to ease them into wearing one for extended periods of time if they aren’t in the habit,” LaSusa says. “Parents should gradually build up face-covering ‘endurance’ in their children by having them wear a face covering for longer and longer periods of time. If a child spends zero time during the day right now in a face covering, then that child will have a tough time spending four hours wearing one when September rolls around. We need to build up this endurance gradually.” 

One thing that most children can comprehend is the importance of clean hands, whether through hand washing or using hand sanitizer. Look for brands that are at least 60% or higher alcohol-based, which kills most types of bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

Maintain your safer-at-home protocols. Though it may seem excessive and like adding a greater burden on already struggling families, having your kids wash their hands and change out of school clothes as soon as they get home to keep your home as clean and safe as possible. “When children return from school they should immediately sanitize their hands,” advises board-certified pediatrician Dr. Candice W. Jones. “At the very least they should remove clothes/shoes and place them in the laundry or in a designated safe place for disinfecting. A shower would be great, but is not absolutely necessary.”

Stay positive.  Noreen Lazariuk, superintendent of the Sussex Charter School for Technology in Sparta, New Jersey says, “My advice is to stay positive. As parents, you are constantly teaching your children. Your example is one they are exposed to more than any classroom or teacher. If your children hear you speaking optimistically about the school year they will adopt that attitude.”

LaSusa adds, “I think we all need to maintain a sense of flexibility and patience, and also recognize that students are going to need some time to reacclimate to school, especially when the adults in their school are wearing masks and the whole environment looks different. We need to adjust the expectations we have for children and meet them where they are, not where we think they ‘should’ be.”

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.